Back in November, I began my search for a new car that my dogs would love as much as I did. Now, I’m not a car person, and I wasn’t really ready to buy a new car (my beloved convertible took an unexpected turn for the worse), so I didn’t expect the process to be much fun.
It wasn’t. I hated the pushy car salespeople and the boring online research. I fell asleep several nights on my laptop trying to decipher crash reports and safety ratings. Just the thought of a monthly car payment stressed me out beyond belief. And as much as I knew the dogs needed an SUV, I hated the idea of driving some monstrously big Mom-mobile when I was used to the ease and speed of my little convertible.
But despite these challenges, I eventually found and fell in love with the perfect car: a 2012 Nissan Rogue with enough little extras to make driving fun — and enough space to fit two dogs comfortably (including one dog with greater-than-average personal space needs).
The one thing I didn’t anticipate was the extra challenges caused by the added height of the Rogue. Now, by SUV standards, it’s pretty close to the ground. In fact, that’s one of the things I loved about it — no “monster truck” feeling getting in and out. But for a 10-year-old, 100-pound dog with some arthritis, it’s still a bit tougher to enter and exit than the old convertible (which was so low to the ground, if you pulled up too far in a parking space, the curb grabbed your bumper and you couldn’t back out without leaving your bumper there attached to the curb…not that I know this from personal experience, or anything!).
As a result, the dog was getting fewer car rides, and suddenly everyone was less than enamored with my wonderful new Rogue.
Clearly we needed a solution, so suddenly I was back in the market, this time for a dog ramp.
Now, dog ramps look easy, don’t they? Your dog walks up them and walks down them. Simple, right?
In theory, sure. In reality, you have to worry about length, weight capacity, slippage, side rails, whether they fold up or retract, whether they slice your fingers off while you’re trying to fold them up or make them retract, how much space they take up in the back, whether they have sharp edges that will slice an ill-placed hand or paw, how heavy they are to carry, how much time they take to set up, and whether your dog will actually use them after you do all this research and eventually buy one.I went through something similar a year ago when I picked up dog stairs to help my dog make it up more easily onto the bed. My bed is a bit higher than a typical bed, and I’d noticed that the dog had recently started needing a running start to jump up onto it. So the stairs seemed like an ideal solution.
I spent two months researching different brands, and several more weeks price shopping before finally placing my order. They arrived, looking and working every bit as well as described. Except for one tiny problem: The dog hated them. She ignored them, jumped over them and flat out refused to use them. Treats, praise, coaxing didn’t help at all. And it wasn’t that she didn’t know how to use them — she just refused.
For six months, they sat in a corner of the bedroom doing nothing. I even thought about giving them away, or selling them on eBay, but never quite got around to it. Then one day, the dog was pacing around the bed, clearly looking to get up, but seemingly unsure of her ability to make the jump. So I pulled out the stairs again. Coaxed her up with some treats. Coaxed her back down with some treats. And suddenly her eyes lit up in the doggie version of “Eureka!” You could actually see her mind clicking: “STAIRS! Stairs for ME! Stairs to MY BED!” That night, she probably climbed on and off the bed 20 times. And while I didn’t get much sleep (a 100-pound dog entering and exiting the bed isn’t the most graceful creature in the world), it thrilled me to be able to give her back the ease of spending time on the bed with me when she wanted to.
So you’d think with the stairs thing being conquered, the ramp thing would be easy, right?
It should be…but it wasn’t.
It turns out my dog doesn’t much like dog ramps. Not big ones, wide ones, ones with rails, ones without rails. She didn’t like the slippery ones or the non-slip ones, the fold up ones or the loud retractable ones.
My fingers didn’t like them either. Trying to assemble these in the dark so my dog could join me for a simple trip to Mom’s was an awful lot of work…and dangerous work for a klutz who can barely do this type of stuff in full daylight, forget at midnight in a coat and gloves.
And suddenly I had a eureka moment myself. Why was I trying to talk my dog into a dog ramp she clearly hated when she loved her stairs so much? So I pulled out her stairs, dragged them up to the back of the car, set them up…and she saw them and lit up with joy, as if to say, ‘Oh look, my stairs!” She walked right up them and into the back, happy as a clam.
So now when we travel, her stairs come with us. They’re a bit heavy to carry back and forth from the house to the car, but they open up in two seconds (no sliced fingers), and the dog seems happy with the arrangement. So I’m thinking we might just buy a second set and keep them in the car full time. They do bang around a bit in the back, so I need to think about how to secure them to the side so they take up less space. But overall, they do the trick.
And since we’ve worked that out, both dogs now love their new car!
Janice Costa is owner and founder of Canine Camp Getaway of NY, the Lake George, NY-based vacation for dogs and dog lovers. When she’s not working, playing or traveling with dogs, she works in the home design field as an author and magazine editor.